Can Your Relationship Survive After Cheating?

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When my wife’s first husband cheated on her, her mantra was “Everybody cheats, nobody’s happy.” That’s not true, but if you have a faulty man-picker and surround yourself with similar friends, it may be hard to believe. Misery loves company.

There’s a big difference between a drunken kiss and a full-blown affair where you’re leading two separate lives.

I’ve never cheated on anyone, but I do believe that a moment of unfaithfulness does not HAVE to be a dealbreaker. There’s a big difference between a drunken kiss and a full-blown affair where you’re leading two separate lives. Sophia Benoit, who writes (very well I might add) for GQ, explores this topic in an article worth sharing.

Fact is: it’s easy to tell a woman to dump a man who cheated (and I usually do) but, as Benoit points out, “People often are judged for not standing up for themselves, not having boundaries, or for “letting” themselves be treated disrespectfully. There’s also a common belief that “once a cheater, always a cheater”—that it’s only a matter of time before it happens again. Assumptions like these ignore the complicated web of considerations that go into deciding what to do after infidelity is revealed.

Esther Perel, noted relationship therapist, wrote a book called State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity, encouraging people to try to understand how and why affairs happen, but also how a relationship might get better—with lots of work—after infidelity. In practice, it tends to be uncommon for a relationship to survive instances of cheating. One study found that only about 16 percent of couples who’d experienced unfaithfulness were able to work it out….Some statistics put that number much higher, especially when it comes to married folks; clinical psychologist Joseph Cilona, Psy.D., told SELF that, “Despite the ambiguous statistics, it seems reasonable to speculate that more couples are staying together after infidelity than not.”

The rest of the piece is Benoit interviewing individuals who stuck it out through infidelity. It’s pretty interesting as a counterpoint to the black/white view that cheating has to mark the end of a relationship. Understand, I am not endorsing cheating, and I am a guy who tells women that relationships are “full trust or no trust.” 

But I also know that if my wife cheated on me, I’d be REALLY hesitant to throw everything we have away because of her actions. Maybe that’s naive but I do believe it’s possible for people to make mistakes and recover from them – not just in theory, but in practice.

Your thoughts, below, are greatly appreciated.

For more of my thoughts on cheating and infidelity, click here

 

My Boyfriend Has Cheated on Me a Bunch of Times. Should I Marry Him?

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I am a 46-year-old, twice divorced, mother of 3, dating a man with whom I had a serious relationship in my 20’s.

Back then, I ended the relationship because I never trusted him (he was somewhat of a player, 8 years older, while I was a naive law student who had had one previous relationship) and although we were very compatible and I loved him very much, I did not see a future with him.

After my 2nd divorce, I reached out to him; we chatted for hours and made a date to meet up for dinner and drinks. That date lasted 7 hours, we both felt an immediate re-connection, and I had this amazing feeling that we had both grown up and were ready to be in a more mature relationship.

The first several months were great; we had many fun dates and became intimate within the first month. There were some red flags early on, like when I asked if he was seeing anyone else and he laughed it off — I thought he was saying my question was ridiculous — after all, he had already told me he loved me.

Turns out, I was wrong. Five months into the relationship, I learned that he had been dating someone very seriously immediately before we started dating, that he was not over her when we started dating, and in fact had tried to get back together with her nearly 3 months after we started dating (she said no).

Also, he had a female “friend” (the former best friend of the aforementioned serious girlfriend) who he spent an inordinate amount of time with (and actually lied to me about sleeping at her house) but insisted there was nothing going on with her.

It made me uneasy but he continued to spend time with her. He routinely didn’t answer his phone, claimed he didn’t hear it, or the phone was dead, or made some other excuse, and was extremely protective of his phone. All along, he insisted there was nothing going on and that I was insecure and pathetic for thinking otherwise. This went on for months.

Finally, 9 months into this relationship, things came to a head when I caught him in a lie. We had a big fight and nearly broke up but somehow ended up staying together. Things changed dramatically after that fight. He started to always answer the phone when I called. He no longer went out with friends without me. He called when he said he would, stopped drinking and partying, stopped spending time with the female friend, and really stepped up as a boyfriend.

I did not ask for any of this — he just did it.

Six months later, I did something I now regret. I looked at his phone records, and found out a few things: In the beginning, when I thought we were exclusive, he was still dating other people, and even took one of them out for Valentine’s Day. But that isn’t the worst part. He actually had another girlfriend — someone whose name I had never heard before — for at least 4 months prior to the “big fight”.

I found hundreds of phone calls and text messages between them, including a 275 minute call on the night of my son’s birthday, pictures of them together, and even spoke to her on the phone where she confirmed the relationship. He ended that relationship just prior to the “big fight”. He denied everything and has still never really apologized. I tried to break up with him but I just didn’t want to let him go. That was almost 2 years ago.

Now, he is doing everything right now, but I am having so much trouble forgetting what happened. I am tortured by it. I try my best to trust him but it is very difficult. He tells me that my “trust issues” are my issues and refuses to acknowledge his part in it.

We generally get along and only fight when my insecurities get the best of me. I love him and genuinely do not believe he is cheating on me now, but I am not sure whether to believe it will never happen in the future. He keeps hinting at getting married but I am hesitant since I was already divorced twice, there are kids involved, and I really don’t want to make another mistake.

My question is — do people really change? Did that big fight — where he almost lost me — make him realize how important I am to him so that he won’t put the relationship at risk again? Can I marry him even though I still feel some much pain from the things he did behind my back? Will I ever get over the pain his cheating caused? I have now given more than 3 years of my life to this guy (6 years total) and am really struggling to figure out if I should marry him or break up with him. Please help.

Jen

There are “rules” and there are “exceptions to rules. My job is to give the rules, even though I’m well aware that there are MILLIONS of exceptions to them.

There are “rules” and there are “exceptions to rules. My job is to give the rules, even though I’m well aware that there are MILLIONS of exceptions to them.

Ex. Man pays for first date. I know a guy who got married although he didn’t pay for their first date, however, that doesn’t mean that going dutch is a good strategy for a first date.

So, Jen, I’m going to point out how many Love U “rules” you went against in this one painfully written email. Let it be noted that I am really sorry this happened to you and deeply sympathetic to your pain. However, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t point out to my readers how many things could have been played differently.

I’m dating a man with whom I had a serious relationship in my 20’s. Sure, someone goes back to their high school reunion and falls in love. Sure, someone reaches out to a recently divorced man on Facebook and tries to suss out if he’s available. Sure, someone rekindles things with an ex. But, in general, going back to the well is a bad idea for one obvious reason — you already tried dating and it didn’t work out! Instead of trying out all the other single available men in the world, you’re going to try AGAIN with a man who didn’t work out the first time around.

I never trusted him — Relationships are based on trust. If you didn’t trust him 20 years ago, why invest your time and faith in him now? Because you “loved him very much?” Not a good answer.

I had this amazing feeling that we had both grown up and were ready to be in a more mature relationship.   That’s a feeling, not a fact. It’s based on brain chemistry and wishful thinking, not based on any evidence that your boyfriend had developed a stronger character over time.

The first several months were great; we had many fun dates and became intimate within the first month. This describes the first several months of EVERY relationship. It doesn’t mean yours is special.

There were some red flags early on, like when I asked if he was seeing anyone else and he laughed it off. Believe the negatives, ignore the positives.

I learned that he had been dating someone very seriously immediately before we started dating, that he was not over her when we started dating, and in fact had tried to get back together with her nearly 3 months after we started dating (she said no).   And you stayed?

Also, he had a female “friend” (the former best friend of the aforementioned serious girlfriend) who he spent an inordinate amount of time with (and actually lied to me about sleeping at her house) but insisted there was nothing going on with her.   And you stayed?!

It made me uneasy but he continued to spend time with her. He routinely didn’t answer his phone, claimed he didn’t hear it, or the phone was dead, or made some other excuse, and was extremely protective of his phone. All along, he insisted there was nothing going on and that I was insecure and pathetic for thinking otherwise. This went on for months. And you stayed?!!

9 months into this relationship, things came to a head when I caught him in a lie.   And you stayed?!!!

He actually had another girlfriend — someone whose name I had never heard before — for at least 4 months prior to the “big fight”. I found hundreds of phone calls and text messages between them, including a 275 minute call on the night of my son’s birthday, pictures of them together, and even spoke to her on the phone where she confirmed the relationship. He ended that relationship just prior to the “big fight”. He denied everything and has still never really apologized. I tried to break up with him but I just didn’t want to let him go. That was almost 2 years ago. And you stayed?!!!!

Now, he is doing everything right now, but I am having so much trouble forgetting what happened. I am tortured by it. I try my best to trust him but it is very difficult. He tells me that my “trust issues” are my issues and refuses to acknowledge his part in it. This is called gaslighting. Run.

My question is — do people really change?

No!

Did that big fight — where he almost lost me — make him realize how important I am to him so that he won’t put the relationship at risk again?

No!

Can I marry him even though I still feel some much pain from the things he did behind my back?

No!!

What is painfully obvious to everybody except you, Jen, is that there is nothing confusing about your situation at all — apart from why you are still considering marrying a man you don’t trust who has lied to you and cheated on you repeatedly.

Please, get out and believe me when I tell you that virtually ANYBODY ON EARTH is a better husband candidate than your current “boyfriend.”

I know that’s not what you want to hear but there is honestly no other interpretation of your situation.

If you marry this guy and he cheats on you, don’t blame him. Blame yourself for willingly marrying a known cheater.

And I normally don’t do this, but your situation is exceptional: please click here to get yourself healthy and find yourself a better man soon.

You deserve much more than what you’re settling for right now.

 

Once a Cheater, Always a Cheater?

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Hey Evan! I’m dealing with an issue that I can’t find explicitly addressed on one of your old posts, so I thought I’d write and see if you can help. I am 38, and divorced three years. I am looking for a relationship, but perfectly happy with my life in the meantime.

I’ve been seeing a man (40) over the past month. He is very attentive, a great listener, and has put in all the effort of someone who is boyfriend material. He calls, plans dates in advance, and is genuinely interested in me. His kids are the same age as mine and we have great conversations and a lot in common. I enjoy his company and can see this continuing into a relationship, as he has told me he doesn’t want to date anyone else.

However, the reason he is single is that he cheated on his ex-wife. They have been legally separated for a little over a year, and are working on finalizing their divorce. He told me on our third date, and was very upfront about it. He said that they married young, had grown apart, and their relationship hadn’t met his needs for a long time. He had an affair with a woman that he knew (I don’t know from where) with the intention of continuing to see her.

He told his ex, they went to counseling for one session, and then decided to separate. The woman with whom he had an affair didn’t want to continue seeing him, so he’s been single for the duration of his separation. He doesn’t intend to cheat again, but also doesn’t appear to regret it. He seems surprised that people are bothered by it, like how the “couple” friends he had with his ex no longer want to get together with him. It worries me that he doesn’t regret it or even feel bad (but maybe that’s more about me than it is about him). He also said that he has worked on himself about noticing when he’s not happy, being more honest about his circumstances, and not flirting with women in his life as much (that last part also was a red flag to me).

My question is, how much weight do you give to someone’s past? Should I stop seeing him because of his prior actions? Or do I give him a chance because it’s more important to pay attention to how he is today, with me, than how he treated another person before? I appreciate any insight you have for me.

Stacia

Well, you have to appreciate his honesty. He’s saved you a lot of pain and heartbreak.

I’ve written about infidelity plenty before, but I never bothered to gather any data on whether “once a cheater, always a cheater” is, for the most part, true.

Turns out, it is.

Those who cheated were three times more likely to cheat again.

Those who cheated were three times more likely to cheat again. Which isn’t terribly surprising. Nor is it surprising that women who’ve been cheated on are twice as likely to get cheated on again (thus making them feel like all men are cheaters. They’re not. Some women are just bad judges of character and are drawn to certain types of men.)

Now, is it POSSIBLE for a man to have cheated and still be worth a chance? Sure.

If he kissed a stranger on a Vegas weekend when he was 23 and he’s 45 now, we can probably write it off as a drunken, youthful aberration.

If he had an affair when he was 30 and felt terrible that he wrecked his marriage, it may be forgiveable.

Hell, even if he cheated because his relationship was miserable and sexless and he saw no way out that wasn’t really painful and expensive, I’d be willing to listen.

But he didn’t. You’re dating a guy who cheated who feels absolutely no remorse.

That’s some sociopathic shit, right there.

As a dating coach for women, I tend to be risk averse.

  • Don’t sleep with guys you barely know.
  • Don’t commit to any man who hasn’t committed to you.
  • Don’t fall in love with men in other states and countries.
  • Don’t stay in a relationship where you don’t feel safe and happy.

I think it would be pretty safe to add:

  • Don’t embark on a relationship with an unrepentant cheater.

Like hiring an embezzler to be your accountant or electing a con artist to be your president, you can’t be too surprised when the shit hits the fan.

I hope you have the strength to walk away now, rather than doubling down on your chemistry and his potential. I GUARANTEE there’s another great guy out there who HASN’T proudly cheated on his wife.

What is Cheating?

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Certain themes come up frequently around here and this is one of them.

What IS cheating? Where do you draw the line? Is it purely physical? Is it emotional? Can you be a cheater just for thinking about someone but never acting on it?

Many debate this but I don’t think it’s much of a debate.

Cheating is based on intention and interaction.  

  • Talking with a woman at a party. Not cheating.
  • Asking for that same woman’s number? Cheating.
  • Watching online porn. Not cheating.
  • Communicating with a woman via live webcam. Cheating.
  • Having lunch with your ex. Not cheating.
  • Having sex with your ex. Cheating.
  • Liking an Instagram model’s photo. Not cheating.
  • Direct messaging the same Instagram model to sit on your face. Cheating.

There’s really not that much grey area, people.

That said, I’m only one man and reasonable people can disagree. Author Ty Tashiro is one of them: “Though micro-cheating does not involve physical contact with someone outside the committed relationship, it’s important to avoid the temptation to overemphasize the ‘micro’ part of the phrase and remember that ‘cheating’ is the operative word,” he says. “When one betrays a partner’s trust there are always emotional consequences for the partner’s well-being and the integrity of the relationship.”

That brings us back to what part is actually betraying a partner’s trust. To me, it requires the aforementioned action and intention – followed by lying about it.

“After all,   solid relationships are based on trust– and micro-cheating isn’t exactly a trustworthy behavior if you’re keeping your interactions on the downlow  “What is lost on many people who cheat is that their interpretation or rationalization of the cheating behavior does not matter, it’s the interpretation of their partner and their partner’s feelings that matter,” says Tashiro. “There’s an old saying in social psychology, ‘What’s perceived as real is real in its consequences,’ and that certainly applies to micro-cheating. When someone feels that there has been an infidelity, there is a sense that an agreed upon standard has been intentionally violated and it’s human to respond to deception with anger, distrust and  loss of affection,” he says.

However, to play devil’s advocate here, what if a man is perfectly comfortable with the aforementioned behaviors – talking to a woman at a party, liking a photo online, masturbating in private, staying friends with an ex – and his partner is not?

He is then faced with two unpleasant choices: stop engaging in behavior that is clearly not cheating because his girlfriend is insecure or jealous, or lie to the girlfriend because she can’t handle the truth. Flip the genders and you’ve got the same exact story.

I’m not the lying type – I’d sooner to break up with someone who forbids me to be myself – but many men (and women) are not as direct and are more likely to hide their behavior.

Not because they are incorrigible liars who are trying to “betray” their partners, but because they are conflict-averse and they neither want to change their habits nor face the possibility of blowing up their relationship.

Being in a relationship does not mean you never notice anyone other than your partner

Personally, I think Dr. Robert Weiss has it right.

It’s somewhat normal to find other people attractive within a committed relationship – just not to act on it. ‘Being in a relationship does not mean you never notice anyone other than your partner,” says Weiss. “It also doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it when someone flirts with you regardless of whether you respond in kind. Nor does this type of behavior automatically reflect poorly on the strength of your relationship or how attractive you find your partner or how good your sex life is” he says.

This is a nuanced view that doesn’t make either party “wrong.” If anything, it may just mean that two people who can’t see eye-to-eye on this are incompatible.

Your thoughts, both on microcheating  and how you navigate this minefield, are greatly appreciated.

Why Facebook Is a Slippery Slope to Infidelity

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There’s a whole category on this blog devoted to cheating.

I’m far from an authority on the subject, but, since it is something that impacts around 25% of relationships, I have counseled a number of clients whose lives were turned upside down by infidelity. In today’s blog post, I want to refer you to check out this first-person article in Time magazine by a divorce lawyer who says Facebook is basically an incubator for dissatisfied couples who are looking for an excuse to cheat.

Facebook is basically an incubator for dissatisfied couples who are looking for an excuse to cheat.

Ten years ago, I actually wrote about Facebook as the primary source of infidelity and, not to toot my own horn, but it sounds remarkably prescient.

“In the past, you had a thing for someone, they disappeared from your life forever. You might have a “what if” lingering in your mind, but it was impractical to act on it. These days, every “what if” can be answered with a “let’s see”. If I want to find my sixth-grade girlfriend in Florida, I can do just that — and know a lot more about her than I know about some stranger on JDate.

The second problem is the falseness of the medium. We make two faulty assumptions on Facebook: that other people are happier than we are, and that if we only connected with those idealized people, we would be happy, too. Of course, reality tells us a different tale, but to someone who is dissatisfied in life and love, it seems like a dreamy goal.”

Now, here’s what the divorce lawyer just wrote:

“Facebook is foreplay. Facebook facilitates adultery and infidelity generally. Facebook gives you the means, the excuse and the cover to communicate with people you have no reason, no business, to talk to. Their day-to-day life has nothing to do with yours – not anymore, anyway. In many cases, perhaps the majority of cases, you follow and chat with this individual because you remember him or her fondly, as he or she might remember you; the memories are from a simpler time in your lives, when you were in college, or high school, when maybe you had a lot more sex, and when nervous possibility was in the air.”

If you have a solid relationship, Facebook is merely a search engine to look up people you dated once upon a time. I just got a friend request from my prom date from 28 years ago – who, from her photos, appears to be happily married with 3 children. That’s benign.

The answer is to break up with that partner, not to engage in a long-distance affair with a blast from the past.

But if you’re in a shaky relationship, Facebook just invites too much temptation. Like an alcoholic who is forced to live in a bar, you step away from your toxic partnership and imagine a better life with a glorified version of a person you knew many years ago. So while you may, in fact, be happier without your current partner, the answer is to break up with that partner, not to engage in a long-distance affair with a blast from the past.

Your thoughts on Facebook, temptation and infidelity, are greatly appreciated, below.

What is Microcheating?

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“Microcheating”: is this a thing now?

I guess once something gets a name on the Internet, it is, so allow me to indulge.

The definition, from a recent Esquire article, is: “If you’re exchanging flirty texts with someone who isn’t your partner, consistently liking and commenting on their posts, or leaving googly-eye emojis on their Instagram photos, you may be engaging in micro-cheating. The term describes a wide range of actions and behaviors that aren’t egregious enough to qualify as cheating but are definitely a little bit shady nonetheless.”

I’m of two minds about this, as any reasonable adult would be. In short, such behaviors COULD be a sign of future infidelity, but they certainly are not NECESSARILY a sign. Which makes micro-cheating as a broad definition just about as clear as mud.

Such behaviors COULD be a sign of future infidelity, but they certainly are not NECESSARILY a sign.

As anyone who is a regular reader of this blog knows, I am a proponent of the “full trust or no trust” relationship. If you’re dating someone you don’t trust, your boyfriend liking a woman’s photo online is a threat. If you’re dating someone you completely trust, it’s just another sign that he’s the same human being he was when you first met – and liking photos is unfaithful as  he’ll ever be.

I’m well aware of the first category of men, whose micro-cheating is a slippery slope to full-blown affairs. But I try to embody the latter category of men   – guys who have flirtatious personalities and libidos that don’t shut off like a light switch after marriage, but whose healthy marriages and strong moral code would never involve infidelity.

Both sides  are important to acknowledge – but usually, the alarmists get more airtime. It’s simpler to think in black-and-white terms about attraction and behavior than engage in nuanced discussions about how people REALLY act, rather than how we think they SHOULD act. Per the Esquire article, “It is a myth to believe that being in a committed relationship means you can never or should never feel attracted to someone else.” (In fact, nearly 46% of women and 42% of men  have fantasized about someone other than their partner during sex, according to a 2015 British survey.)  Hell, I don’t even do that.

Both sides  are important to acknowledge – but usually, the alarmists get more airtime.

To be fair, the article is actually quite balanced and gets a series of expert quotes to balance out the fear-based worldview that conflates micro-cheating with cheating.

So what do you think, readers? Is sending a Facebook message to an ex-boyfriend a sign that your relationship is going down the tubes? Or is it just a sign that you were thinking momentarily of your ex-boyfriend, but have no intention of  doing anything nefarious? Do you have different rules for your own behavior than your boyfriend’s behavior?

Your thoughts, below, are greatly appreciated.

Why Women Cheat on Their Husbands

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It’s hard to keep up with statistics. People cherry pick the ones that make their case, and I suppose I’m no different. I instinctively abhor statistics that insinuate that men are bad, relationships are doomed, and marriage is a dying institution – probably because I consider myself a good man who is happily married.

That said, I’m always trying to challenge my own confirmation bias – having come to  terms with the unfortunate facts that 1/4 of women have been sexually assaulted and that only 1/3 of all marriages are happy. This latest study is another example that flies in the face of something that seems obvious: men cheat more than women.

This latest study is another example that flies in the face of something that seems obvious: men cheat more than women.

Not so, says Esther Perel, author of “State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity.”

On this very blog, I’ve reported something that seemed likely: 23% of men and 19%  cheat over the course of their marriage.  But Perel says that times have changed and that while men’s infidelity rate has remained constant, women’s has jumped 40% since 1990. What can we make of this statistic, if it is to be believed?

Well, according to a New York Magazine article about Perel’s new book,  women have many of the same sad, mundane rationalizations for their own affairs as men.

“The fact is,” one of these friends told me, “I’m nicer to my husband when I have something special going on that’s just for me.” She found that she was kinder, more patient, less resentful, “less of a bitch.” It occurred to me as I listened that these women were describing infidelity not as a transgression but a creative or even subversive act, a protest against an institution they’d come to experience as suffocating or oppressive. In an earlier generation, this might have taken the form of separation or divorce, but now, it seemed, more and more women were unwilling to abandon the marriages and families they’d built over years or decades. They were also unwilling to bear the stigma of a publicly open marriage or to go through the effort of negotiating such a complex arrangement. These women were turning to infidelity not as a way to explode a marriage, but as a way to stay in it.

Ugh. If a man said this, he’d rightfully be skewered.

But let’s not lose sight of the big picture. Women do have a lot to complain about, as the bearers of the “emotional load” within most marriages. As the article points out, it’s hard to feel hot for your husband when you’re taking care of him like another dependent.

Some part of that is inevitable within marriage. Which opens up a much larger can of worms: are our expectations of marriage setting us up for failure?

The author of the New York piece, Kim Brooks, seems to think so.

“I confided in a friend once that, after 15 years of marriage, the institution and the relationship itself continued to mystify me. At the time I married, marriage had felt like a panacea; it was a bond that would provide security, love, friendship, stability, and romance – the chance to have children and nice dishes, to be introduced as someone’s wife. It promised to expand my circle of family and improve my credit score, to tether me to something wholesome and give my life meaning.

Could any single relationship not fall short of such expectations? Maybe these women were on to something – valuing their marriages for the things it could offer and outsourcing the rest, accepting the distance between the idealization and the actual thing, seeing marriage clearly  for what it is and not what we’re all told and promised it will be.”

Personally, I think a huge part of life is having realistic expectations.

If you think you’re going to sign up for Match for a month and find your husband, you’re going to be disappointed.

If you think that your boyfriend is going to understand and intuit all of your emotional needs effortlessly and without fail, you’re going to be disappointed.

If you think that your initial chemistry (and the sex that comes with it) will continue, unabated, for the next 40 years, you’re going to be disappointed.

The problem isn’t life; it’s our expectations of what life has in store for us.

The problem isn’t life; it’s our expectations of what life has in store for us.

The strength of my marriage lies in its honesty. My wife can tease me about my foibles: my impatience in looking for lost items, my inability to fix simple things around the house, my remarkable penchant for getting injured. I can tease her about hers: her refusal to throw out any item of clothing, her insistence on taking a full week to pack for a three-day weekend, her uncanny desire to eat the least healthy item on any menu.

At the end of the day, we accept these flaws. We understand that we’re not going to have sex every time we see each other like we did in that first year. We joke about desiring other people, knowing full well that neither of us would do anything to jeopardize our marriage.

Looking at what I just wrote, it sounds like a cliche: the secret to marriage is open, honest communication.

Then again, maybe it’s no more complex than that.

Maybe cliches are cliches for a reason.

Your thoughts – specifically about women cheating on men – are greatly appreciated in the comments below.

My Boyfriend Sexted Another Woman. Should I Give Him Another Chance?

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I’ve been dating my boyfriend for almost 2 years now, and recently I couldn’t shake this feeling that something was going on. I don’t know if it’s women’s intuition, or what, but I snooped. After 6 weeks of asking him if something was bothering him at work, if something was bothering him between the two of us, etc., I finally gave in as I knew something was just off.

I found pictures that he and a girl had been exchanging for the past 6 weeks, who is someone that he works with. I feel like I have been cheated on, and I unleashed hell on him last night. He told me that it all started with meaningless flirting, when he didn’t feel like either of us were happy. I could barely collect myself last night.

Though I definitely didn’t handle myself well, he’s now at the point where he feels that he’s done too much damage for us to recover. He thinks that he’s hurt me far too much, and doesn’t know if he can put in the effort to fix this.

I’ve suggested couples counseling, trying to move forward and overcome our issues, all of that. Is there a way forward for us? He was receptive at first, but now I think he’s had a chance to reflect on how much effort it’s going to take to repair this.

Danielle

You’re asking two different questions disguised as one.

Question #1: Can my relationship recover from this betrayal?

Question #2: Should my relationship recover from this betrayal?

Let’s dispense with the first one first.

Relationships can — and do — recover from infidelity.

It’s easy to say that all unfaithful behaviors are cause for a breakup.

But such blanket proclamations don’t reflect a more complex reality.

Forgiving infidelity is not the same as condoning infidelity or forgetting infidelity.

If a couple chooses to stay together because of years of a deep, emotional connection that neither of them want to sever, it’s not my place to judge their good-faith efforts to repair things.

There are plenty of couples that break-up and make-up — overlooking all forms of bad behavior — verbal abuse, emotional neglect, addiction, and yes, even cheating.

Forgiving infidelity is not the same as condoning infidelity or forgetting infidelity.

To me, the more important question is the second one:

Do you want to repair this relationship?

Do you want to continue to date a man who went behind your back for six weeks?

Do you want to put your faith in a man who systematically lied to your face?

Do you want to marry a man who deals with mixed emotions and uncertainty by sending photos to another woman instead of addressing his issues with you like an adult?

Do you want to give it the old college try with a man who is already backpedaling from the relationship?

If I screwed up with my wife, I would fight like hell to prove her wrong.

Certain relationships can — and should — overcome infidelity.

Your guy is saying, “Yeah, you’re pretty mad. Maybe we should just give this up.”

If it sounds like I’m coming down on one side of the fence, it’s because I am.

Certain relationships can — and should — overcome infidelity.

It doesn’t sound to me like your relationship is one of them.

I Think My Husband Is Having an Affair But I Don’t Want to Learn More

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Since writing “Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough,” in 2010, friend of the blog Lori Gottlieb has dedicated herself to being a therapist.

Recently, she landed a gig at New York Magazine, putting her talents to great use, in a weekly column called “What Your Therapist Really Thinks.”  Her writing is across-the-board superb, so I wasn’t sure what I wanted to share with you, but I thought this would be a great entry point to her work.

In a piece called “Is My Husband Having an Affair?” Gottlieb cuts to the heart of things. The letter writer is a woman who really doesn’t want to know the truth, lest it blow up her marriage.

“What are you afraid of learning? That your husband doesn’t love you? That he’s not attracted to you? That you’re not appealing enough to hold his attention? That he has commitment issues? Even if any of this is true (and most of it won’t be), it probably has little to do with why he would cheat.

She would rather bury her feelings than address them – which explains how she’s arrived at this point where she’s prepared to ignore her husband’s infidelity just to keep the peace.

It might be reassuring to know that most people have affairs not because they’ve found somebody better or hotter or more perfect (perfect people don’t tend to have sex with other people’s spouses) but because affairs make us feel alive and seen; they counteract feelings of numbness or flatness or disconnection that seem like they might kill us, if we don’t kill ourselves first. And since we aren’t up for suicide, we find a work-around.”

Gottlieb continues:

“An affair or alcohol or the internet (what a colleague calls “the most effective, short-term, nonprescription painkiller”) are all ways of coping with what we can’t bear: the career we picked, the choices we’ve made, a kid’s drug problem, the blandness of a soggy relationship. And putting one’s head in the sand serves  exactly the same purpose: to not have to feel.

I wonder what you might not want to feel, HHIS. And I wonder what you might be feeling anyway, despite trying so hard to keep your head in the sand. Anger? Fear? Sadness? Loneliness? Anxiety? Despair? I always tell clients that when we feel something, it’s a signal to look inside ourselves, not at the other person (which most of us do, naturally, because it’s so much easier to look out than in). Here’s what I see when I look inside your letter:  I won’t let my husband get near me – the real me, the messy me, the vulnerable me. I won’t let him see my fear. I’m cheating him of my authenticity. I’m a fake, and he knows it.”

Next, Gottlieb calls out the letter writer for being complicit in the underlying problem without actually being the cause of it. She would rather bury her feelings than address them – which explains how she’s arrived at this point where she’s prepared to ignore her husband’s infidelity just to keep the peace.

“Silence may seem solitary, but it’s very much an interaction, a communication without words. Neither of you is talking about why there used to be overnight communication when he’s traveling, and now, “uncharacteristically,” there isn’t. He’s aware that this is happening, too. I’ll bet there’s a lot going unsaid between you, unrelated to his business trips. Maybe you both feel more comfortable looking the other way (he, at a vodka or women or his iPad; you, at grains of sand), but if you both don’t watch where you’re going, you’re going to step on a landmine. One look in the psychological literature will show you that loneliness is one of the most painful of human experiences, which is why loneliness can be lethal – both for individuals (resulting in suicide) and for marriages (resulting in divorce). The antidote to feeling alone in a marriage is knowing that you have a partner with whom you can see and be seen. Without that, eventually, the emptiness of the connection will be too hard for one or both of you to tolerate. The loss will feel too large.”

I love this article. I love this writer. I hope you do, too.

Check out the whole thing and then let me know your thoughts on how you would handle things if you were in the wife’s shoes.

What Is the Definition of Cheating? Is Sexting Cheating?

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2 years ago, I met a wonderful man with whom I share many interests, activities, and a similar outlook on life. We started out as friends and running partners, but 3 weeks after we started being “more than friends” he told me he loved me and we had the “exclusivity” talk.

Fast forward 1.5 years and everything was going great until we started having little disagreements about the sharing of pictures on social media. When we were first dating, he had no problem with me sharing whatever I wanted on social media. Then he started saying, “Do you have to post that?” The posts he objects to are those where I tag him with me doing something. We had an argument about this and he stonewalled me for a week despite me trying to reach out and discuss things. He broke the silence eventually and we talked it through and everything seemed hunky-dory. So I stopped posting anything about us; I just don’t want to deal with his selective censorship on my social media account.

About 2 months ago, I was using his computer and found text messages sent during the time we had been arguing – specifically sext messages– to his ex-girlfriend in which he was propositioning her for sex (I wish I could unsee the stuff he wrote) and she refused him so the booty call was never realized. I was livid. I asked him to explain himself and he said he was just frustrated and started talking to his ex while we were fighting (like meeting her for coffee and talking/texting to her on the phone) because he needed a “female perspective” on things when I was “frustrating” him. I made it clear that this is unacceptable and if he wanted to continue with me, he could not have his cake and eat it too. He maintains “nothing happened” because they did not have sex. However, I see this as cheating as do most of my friends. We talked it through and he said that he stopped contact with her and that it is “just us” now. In the time leading up to this post to you, he has been behaving just fine and even talking about future plans. We have plans to run all 6 marathon majors together and travel and see the world. However, I find it very hard to trust him. I continue to wonder what he does when he goes home. Does he need more female perspective?

Am I a fool for staying with him? Is this a deal breaker just because the cheating was not physically realized? This thing he did really kicked me off Relationship Cloud 9 and I now go on with the relationship with the expectation that we will complete our running goals together, but after that I may have to let him go.

Thanks,
Leanne

Dear Leanne,

I had a dream last night where I took a woman home and kissed her — whereupon I quickly realized that I was married and that the woman in my dreams had to leave my house. In my dreams, I cheated on my wife. We can debate whether a wife should dump her husband over one kiss or not, but to be clear, the kiss was cheating, even if it didn’t go any further.

Bewildered by my dream, I told my wife when I woke up this morning. She immediately lit up. “That is SO funny,” she said, “I had a dream that I almost cheated on YOU last night.” I laughed. I don’t remember all the details, but the situation was my wife proposing a threesome with another couple (on of whom is on a popular TV show) — and debating to herself (in her dreams) as to whether it counted as cheating if it was with a woman. She decided it was and remained faithful to me. Whew!

You can try to make meaning of it but it’s much easier to pay attention to how someone treats you in real life — instead of playing thought police to someone else’s fantasies.

I know that’s a little bit TMI, but it just happened this morning, and I thought it said a lot about my marriage. We have a relationship based on honesty and trust, not fear and suspicion, so neither of our dreams upset the other. Weird shit happens in dreams. You can try to make meaning of it but it’s much easier to pay attention to how someone treats you in real life — instead of playing thought police to someone else’s fantasies.

But enough about me. Now let me turn this to you, Leanne.

Before I rip your boyfriend a new one, I have to say, I’m always amused at how women manage to “find” texts from 2 years ago. I’m guessing your boyfriend must have taken a screenshot and turned them into his desktop background, so you just happened to stumble upon it when you were walking by his computer. Don’t get me wrong: I acknowledge that you actually caught your guy cheating. But I really do not get women who claim to trust their boyfriends (you called it Relationship Cloud 9!) and yet still snoop around looking for evidence to the contrary.

Moving on…

There is no one definition of cheating, no more than there is one definition of attractive or smart or funny. But, as you know, what I do is to attempt to impose some order and rationality on what is acceptable and unacceptable dating and relationship behavior. In other words: I make up rules that I think apply to the majority of people and then get yelled at by strangers who disagree with me. Fun!

So here’s my definition of cheating: it all starts with intent.

I can flirt with a woman at a party. Make her laugh. Charm her. It’s part of having a flirtatious personality. But that doesn’t veer into cheating unless I’m asking for her phone number with the intent to pursue a sexual relationship with her. We can debate how much flirtation is disrespectful. A good boyfriend will not have a strange woman sitting on his lap or make sexual advances, but he can still enjoy making that same woman smile. It’s all about intent.

That’s why there’s a big difference between watching online porn, and going on Ashley Madison to solicit sex from another woman. A big difference between having a dream about cheating and actually cheating. And, of course, a big difference between telling an ex on Facebook that she looks great and reaching out to her via text to see if she’s up for an illicit tryst.

He can try all he wants, but there’s no defense of it. His attempts to do so only make him seem less trustworthy. Think about how you might reconsider your stance if he owned his behavior, apologized profusely, admitted his fault, and promised that he loved you and it would never happen again.

Yes, this is cheating. Yes, you’re a fool for staying with him. Yes, you have to let him go.

By denying that cheating is cheating, your boyfriend has pretty much admitted that he is either selfish, clueless, unreasonable or amoral. Either way, it’s not the kind of guy you should feel comfortable as the foundation of your universe. You seemed to miss the earlier signs of his selfishness and stubbornness when he stopped talking to you for a week because he was upset at your tagging practices. That’s some childish bullshit right there. You may have missed it the first time, but now, it’s undeniable.

Yes, this is cheating. Yes, you’re a fool for staying with him. Yes, you have to let him go.

Thank god you happened to find those two-year old dirty texts on his computer. 

Next time, for your own sake, find a guy who doesn’t make you want to snoop on him, okay?

PRIVACY POLICY

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